The Heartreader’s Secret is Complete!

After a solid two months of writing 40 hours a week, I have finally written the last word in the first draft of The Heartreader’s Secret, Faraday Files number 3!

It’s only been done for a few hours now, so there’s no news on when it’ll be in your hands. Hopefully not too long, but publishing takes a while… and there’s a lot of work left to do on the book. But this stuff is honestly the easy part, and I can’t wait until the book is in your hands!

Here are some quick facts about The Heartreader’s Secret:

1. The first draft has clocked at 144k words. The Deathsniffer’s Assistant finished at 160k. The Timeseer’s Gambit was 132. That puts THS firmly in the middle of the three so far. It’s worth noting that word count can change a lot in revisions, of course! TDA and TTG ended up essentially the same length as TDA lost scenes and TTG picked some up.

2. It’s the darkest book in the series. The Faraday Files book are meant to act as both self-contained stories and four acts of one narrative. THS is very much the lowest point for the heroes as we head into the climax and finale in the final book.

3. It isn’t set (entirely) in Darrington City. Olivia and Chris’s case in this book takes them out of the big city and to the rambling country estate where Olivia grew up. Summergrove has become a hotbed for activity, with Rachel Albany, Rosemary Buckley, Emilia Banks, and Francis Livingstone all out there — not to mention Olivia’s mother, Elouise Faraday! It’s inevitable that Chris and Olivia would find themselves out there, and in this book, they do.

4. The titular heartreader is Rachel Albany. Rachel has always been my most challenging character to write, and her prominent role in this book is part of why it’s taken me so long to finish it! But despite her title call, Rachel doesn’t play as prominent a role as Olivia and Will do in the first two books, or Rosemary will in book 4, The Spiritbinder’s Key. THS is the most ensemble book in the series, and pretty much everybody gets a lot of stuff to do.

5. It’s been the hardest book to write by far. TTG stayed miraculously on-point. It only very occasionally diverged from the outline, and only in minor ways. TDA was a far more rambling, out of control creature… but it was also my first book and was a simpler narrative. It was easier to course correct when it strayed. But THS would not stay on topic. Chekov’s guns refused to fire. Entire characters wouldn’t fulfill their designated role. Planned dynamics didn’t play out. New characters appeared. Events played out differently than I envisioned. This book just would not behave, and with so many moving pieces I needed to get squared away for the final book, it was a pain to restructure everything over and over again!

6. I know a whole lot about apples, ciders, and horticulture now. Like, too much. Olivia’s family runs a famous orchard, mill, and cidery. I have something like fifty pages of research about apples, of which I’ve used maybe three lines. Oh, well. I got to drink a lot of different hard ciders for research 😉

Hungry for more? Keep your eyes peeled for more information about The Heartreader’s Secret, coming… hopefully soon!

Backstage Character Pass — Emilia Banks

Some of my cast, like Chris, Olivia, and Rosemary, were important parts of the full series before they were even fully formed. Others didn’t really find their place until I started writing, like Maris, Will, or Kolston. The latest comer to the core cast is definitely the brilliant engineer Emilia Banks, which is funny… because she’s one if the most integral characters to the story as a whole.

Em’s origin story is a lot like Maris’s. As you might remember from my Backstage Character Pass on our favourite policewoman, Officer Dawson was added late when I realized that my first book didn’t pass the Bechdel test, and I think she’s a great example of how adding characters to fill a quota is actually a great thing! She contributes so much to the world and is so fun to write and adds such friction and spice to the rest of the cast! The series would definitely be worse off without her. Em is a lot like this.

After a single scene with Maris, I knew that this woman was gay as the hills. And I… kind of didn’t love it. In a lot of wars, Maris can seem like a lesbian stereotype. She’s stout, muscular, tough, no-nonsense, grizzled, and butch. I felt uncomfortable with having my lesbian conform to so many tropes. I turned to my lesbian friend and asked her how she would proceed and what she thought about this.

Her solution was pretty simple. Gay women, especially “mannish” ones like Maris, as often just gay as a character trait rather than an actual lifestyle. To avoid Maris being just a trope, I should give her a love story and make her lover as important to the story as Maris herself.

This right here is me miming a kiss to my friend. I really can’t thank her enough.

I thought about what kind of woman Maris would fall in love with, I thought about what blank spaces another cast member could fill in the world and the story, and I thought about the venn diagram where those two things overlapped. Like magic, Emilia Banks sprang to life.

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absolutely gorgeous fanart of maris and emilia at the piffleman’s gala house is illustrated by Doug @ greekburrito on tumblr!

Em is a lot of fun to write. She’s one of the most serious characters in my main cast, but she’s got some dry wit going on. She’s intelligent and kind and determined and deeply in love with Maris. She brings some much needed colour to Tarland’s isolationist racial purity, and shows us a bit of the world outside of Darrington’s sheltered walls. She’s also extremely logical and analytical. But I think what really makes her stand out is her passion.

There are two main types of character in the Faraday Files. There are the ones who are just trying to go about their lives and avoid the looming apocalypse scenario bearing down on Tarland, and those who have become ideologically embroiled in the politics and the discourse about what should be done about it. Em is neither. She is as disinterested in debating ideology as she is in putting her head in the sand. The debate about how to handle Tarland’s economic and social crises has been raging for a decade now without any real progress, and Emilia is so Done With It. People talk and talk and talk and talk and nothing ever happens, so why bother talking? Why not just get out there, headfirst, and do things?

One of my favourite things about Em is that she always puts her money where her mouth is. Both literally — she’s independently wealthy and uses her own money to fund her research — and figuratively. Emilia is dead set against categorization from top to bottom. It’s a corrupt, horrible system that is keeping Tarland in the dark ages, not the shining beaon of progress like so many claim. As a citizen of Tarland who has reached her majority, Em is legally obligated to undergo categorization, and she has. And yet, neither the reader nor the characters (other than Maris, of course) know what proficiency she has, because she won’t use it. Maybe it would make her life more convenient, or allow her to work legally and grow her fortune, but Emilia won’t play a role in the system she despises. I think that’s pretty impressive.

The Timeseer’s Gambit mostly serves as an introduction to the indomitable Miss Banks, but don’t worry — you’ll be seeing a lot of her in The Heartreader’s Secret. While the book is named for Rachel Albany, who has a big role to play, it’s as much Em’s book as it is Rachel’s.

Like Maris, I think Em is a great case for how a character added to tick a box can actually be a huge blessing to a story. I adore her, and response to her has been super positive! But she wouldn’t even exist if I weren’t committed to real diversity in my work.

So, what did you think of Emilia Banks?

The Timeseer’s Gambit Backstage Character Pass Series:
Kolston
The Deathsniffer’s Assistant Backstage Character Pass Series:
Chris
Olivia
Maris
Rosemary
Rachel
Will

Oh, Hey, Long Time No See

Wow, this is embarrassing, isn’t it? After all that talk about making an effort to blog more and get myself out there and make sure I’m staying in close touch with you guys, I seem to have gotten worse than ever at this. Huh.

After about two years of doing this, I’m coming to the conclusion that I am just bad at blogging. Or, no. Let’s scratch that. I think I’m actually pretty good at blogging. People keep telling me that they really love my blog and they think my posts are really compelling and interesting and they love reading them. The truth is probably closer to this:

I hate blogging.

I have got this idea in my head about what a blog post needs to be, and one of those things is that it needs to have effort put into it. Which may or may not be true, but god dammit, it’s stuck in my head like a song that won’t leave. When I just have some hot take I want to throw out there, I go to my twitter.  Blogging feels like an obligation that’s going to absorb my valuable writing energy. Which it kinda does.

Anyway. I feel like I’ve made this damn spiel so many times, everyone must be bored of it! This isn’t a blog post about my issues with blogging. Rather, this is a blog post I’m putting the absolute minimum amount of energy into to see if it can be done, instead of getting myself all worked up about things!

UPDATES:

The Deathsniffer’s Assistant has been out for almost a year! It’s birthday is only two days away, and I’m really excited to hit that milestone. I’m intending to write a big postmortem on the book and do something to celebrate the birthday. We’ll see if it actually gets done! For now, let me just say that I’m really, really happy with how this year has gone and I’m so, so grateful to all of you for buying a copy and telling your friends and supporting me. I write for you guys.

The Timeseer’s Gambit is out in only twenty-five days! Holy crap! The time has flown, and also, has dragged so slow I could cry. I am really proud of this one and so frigging excited to get it into your hands. Early reviews are starting to go up, and the consensus so far is that it’s as good or better than the first one. (Yay!) I am really just so pumped to start talking about the book with you. My cover reveal is next week (pushing it close to pub, I know!) and I hope you guys love it!

The Heartreader’s Secret is looking a hell of a lot better than it was the last time I updated this blog, when I posted talking about how I’d spent five months writing a single chapter. The good news is there is now a lot more than one chapter hammered out on this manuscript! The going is still slow-ish compared to how fast TTG came out, but it’s a much more complicated book. I think it’s going to turn out considerably longer than the first two (which have almost the exact same word/page count!), which could be great or terrible depending. I’m still at a stage with this book where I’m worried it’s not very good, so I can’t say that I’m excited to get it out there in front of you all. But it’s coming, and it’s turning out mostly the way I want it to, so that’s good.

As for me, personally, it’s been a long summer so far. What do you mean, summer has just started? Dammit! It isn’t over yet?? I hate summer, I really do. I’m one of those weird people who would rather sit curled up by the fire with blankets while a blizzard rages outside than go to the beach. I hate the beach, actually. And the heat. And bugs. And eighteen hours of daylight. And I’m pale as a ghost and sunburn like I’m being roasted. Summer is not my time. I’ve been a little down, a little unfocused, and really, really excited for autumn to get here. Okay, is summer over, yet? What’s that? It’s only been a minute since I started writing this paragraph? HOW IS IT STILL HERE?

I’ve also read some books that are totally worth checking out. In the sci-fi side of things, I’m still digging the absolute pants off of  The Expanse series by James S A Corey. As for fantasy, Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan just recently came out in paperback and I tore through it in a day or less. So good. And on the romance front, I’ve been absolutely thrilled over how good Sarah Maclean’s Rules of Scoundrels series is, especially the second one!

So that’s it. This took very little effort and was fun to write, so hey, that’s something.

The Wretched Rebirth of That Little Voice

Come with me on a journey. We’ll use that magical internet ability to time travel and go back to May 17th, 2015. The world was still waiting for the promised new Star Wars and the Canadian dollar hadn’t yet ruined my life by bungie jumping without a cable. I was ecstatic, because I had just finished the first draft of The Timeseer’s Gambit, which at the time still lacked a firm title. Look at how happy I was. How proud. How naive.

Depressingly, we’re about to come up on a year since that day, and I’m about to admit that I’m only just now finishing… the very first chapter of Book 3.

Oh, ouch.

I wish I could say that I’ve had a hard year. I haven’t. Full disclosure? I’ve had a great year. I got engaged and went on a ballin’ vacation in Las Vegas. The Deathsniffer’s Assistant has done so well and I’ve gotten a lot of incredibly moving feedback, met wonderful fans, and even made a not insignificant amount of money. My finances are better than they’ve ever been and I’m a happier, better person than I was this time last year. My mental health has never been so good. So while I wish that I could take refuge in having had a rough time of it, the truth is quite the opposite.

Part of it is that I wasn’t prepared for how much different editing is when you have an actual committee of people on you. I am really bad at starting a new project while I feel the previous one is still “unfinished,” and the fact that The Timeseer’s Gambit is still nowhere near ready for print right now, almost a year after my finishing it, is actually low key making me crazy as we speak. So many more steps were added to the revisions process with the addition of an agent and an entire publisher‘s worth of assorted people. But I sat down to actually start really digging into work on The Heartreader’s Secret in January, which is about when I started working on TTG in earnest last year. Even with the unexpected complications of working with publishers on a the previous book, I should be a lot deeper into THS than I am. There’s really only one real explanation for it.

I just can’t shut that little voice off.

You know. THE VOICE. The one that comes from inside of you. The one that always has something to say, and it’s never something nice. That voice is my best friend while I’m in editor mode and it’s part of what makes me a pretty good writer. But only part. The only part is the creativity, the joy of storytelling, the ability to find and follow a scene and the characters who inhabit it. And while my creative spirit leaves the voice alone and lets it work when it’s work time, the voice isn’t content to return the favour. It does its level best to strangle the creative part of me every single second when I’m actually trying to create.

That paragraph is too long.

You’re overusing italics.

That transition was awkward.

What’s the point of this scene?

That’s not the perfect word you’re looking for.

This entire beginning is trash.

Obvious explanatory dialogue tag.

Chapter too short.

You’re rambling.

Run-on sentence.

Too much dialogue.

Not enough action.

Not good enough.

Not good enough.

Not good enough.

A year ago, fresh on the high of having finished my second book in record time, I had kind of convinced myself that I was above that voice. I’d slain it like a knight on a dragon, and now it was behind me, beneath me, and I’d never face it again. I was a Real Writer now, and my difficulties had graduated with me. I didn’t have to face the same things that I’d faced before.

Well, lesson learned.

I’m realizing that we never defeat that voice. Sometimes it’s louder, and sometimes it’s quieter, but its always there, and we all have it. I think I underestimated it and oversold myself. And it’s laying me so low because I naively thought I was beyond it. When you think you’ve slain your demon and stupidly turned away from it, its strikes become backstabs.

So here I am, looking that voice in the face.

I underestimated you, asshole. I let myself think that you were gone and you’re very much still here. But here’s the deal. I wrote two books already, and you were here for those, too. And they’re pretty damn good books. So you don’t control me.

I’m going to go back to my basics. One chapter minimum a week. A commitment to hard work. Furrowing my brow and ignoring you when you start whispering, and doing it over and over again until I get my immunity to you back.

You can be a useful partner. You’ve helped me see flaws, cut fat, and kill darlings. You’ve kept me grounded and realistic. But right now, nobody wants you here. I’ll see you when the draft is done, but that might be a while, so don’t wait around.

… is it gone?

That’s a joke. It’s never gone. Because the real shitty twist to this story is that it’s not an evil dragon-demon-voice.

It’s me.

It’s my own brain, doing what brains do, being both your best friend and worst enemy. No amount of shouting at my brain will make it go away, and besides, I kind of need it. But the fact that it is me is also an advantage, because ultimately, we have control over ourselves. I’ve made the decision to ignore my brain-voice before. I know I have, because I remember doing it. I can do it again, and I will.

I’m going to work my ass (and my brain) off to get The Heartreader’s Secret into your hands in the summer of ’17. So here I go. Screw you, me. Let’s do this.